European spirits exports were at an all-time high in 2017, valued at €10.7bn ($12.4bn) and up 5% from 2016. The sector has seen enormous growth in the last decade with an increase of €4bn ($4.64bn) compared with 2007.
The only EU agri-food export to top spirits in 2017 was wine with €12bn ($13.9bn). The most profitable spirits categories of the year were whiskey (€4.5bn/$5.22bn), cognac (€3.2bn/$3.7bn) and liqueurs (€1bn/$1.2bn).
Even though Scotch whisky dominates the category worldwide, there has been a resurgence of Irish whiskey in the last five years with EU exports set to double over the next three.
According to the report, “In 2013, only four [Irish whiskey] distilleries were left in Ireland. Today, there are 18 newly opened distilleries in operation and another 16 in planning.”
Exports of cognac were up 10.3% in 2017, with 98% of all cognac production being exported by France and supporting more than 60,000 jobs. The liqueur sector has also grown 36% in the last decade with Ireland, France and Germany leading the category.
Trade of the future
The report also addresses the need for EU trade reform with outside countries, citing high import tariffs, tax discrimination and other barriers affecting the industry.
“The industry’s importance to Europe’s economy is why when negotiating trade agreements with partners the EU is keen to dismantle tariffs and trade barriers to these quality goods,” said Cécilia Malmström, European Commissioner in charge of Trade, in the report.
The highest import tariff rates that EU spirits exporters face are in India (150%), Indonesia (150%) and Thailand (60%), while China reduced import tariffs on some spirits from 10% to 5% in late 2017.
The report cites the first priority of the sector as the “full tariff elimination upon entry into force of the Mercosur agreement [a trade bloc between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, in talks of an agreement with the EU],” because “spirits’ exports from Mercosur countries already benefit from a zero tariff when entering the European market.”
“We need to ensure that traditional spirits that have been granted geographical indication status because of their special quality or features are protected from imitations in overseas markets. That is why the EU also ensures that its trade agreements protect intellectual property rights such as geographical indications,” Malmström said.
With regards to Brexit, the report calls for a “deep EU-UK comprehensive trade agreement,” achieved quickly with tariff-free trade for spirits.